Pop star Britney Spears’ efforts to overturn her 13-year conservatorship in California have shed new light on these legal arrangements intended to protect individuals unable to manage their own financial affairs.
Spears’ efforts were bolstered when her court-appointed attorney stepped down, and she was allowed to hire her own attorney in an effort to end the conservatorship, which allows her father to make decisions for her estate. Britney told a judge in June that the relationship is “abusive.”
Defining conservatorships and guardianships
In many cases, people who are incapable of managing their own health care, personal or financial needs do not have estate planning directives in place granting that power to someone they trust. In these cases, a court may step in to protect them. In Colorado, this is typically done through two methods:
- Conservatorship: A court appoints a conservator to manage a vulnerable person’s property and financial affairs.
- Guardianship: Guardians are responsible for an individual’s personal care and well-being, including decisions over medical treatment and living arrangements.
Guardians typically handle only small amounts of money for the protected person. Conservators are usually only appointed when the estate contains more assets and income than the protected person requires for daily living needs.
What impact will Britney’s challenge have?
Some experts believe Spears’ efforts could open a floodgate of challenges to conservatorships across the country and spur efforts to change laws over protecting vulnerable individuals.
In 2013, the AARP estimated that roughly 1.5 million Americans might be under a conservatorship, while some legal sources claim that number is as high as 3 million.
Challenging conservatorships can be difficult
While conservatorships are designed to protect vulnerable individuals, abuse can occur. Challenges often happen when conservators:
- Fail to perform their fiduciary duties
- Exert undue influence over the protected person
- Abuse or neglect the protected person or their needs
- Mismanage the protected person’s estate
Protecting a vulnerable person’s rights
Conservatorships are justified in many circumstances. However, no one should be abused or manipulated by a person morally and legally responsible for protecting them.
It’s advisable to work with an experienced probate and estate administration attorney who understands how to guide you through the conservatorship process or can draft estate planning documents to protect you or someone you love from an uncertain future.